Sunday, November 17, 2013

Journal of a Soul 38

A Passion for Equality

Frederick Douglass, around 1874
There are few things that move us as much as good oratory, and indeed we would go almost anywhere to hear a good orator speak.  The orators that come immediately to my own mind are, of course, luminaries such as Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, William Jefferson Clinton, Nelson Mandela and, of course, Barak Obama.  I would go anywhere to here them speak.  Indeed, I had the privilege to hear Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton and Barak Obama here in Dublin when they visited our great city over the last ten or so years.  Needless to say, I was truly moved.  To add a few females to this list Hillary Rodham Clinton springs immediately to mind as does Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  I have heard these two prominent international figures speak on our media outlets and can truly say they are accomplished public speakers. Our own two former presidents, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese are also superb orators. You, no doubt can add your own favourites to this list.

Orators are never better than when they are speaking on the great issues of supreme human interest, namely human and civil rights, and about issues of the equality of all human beings no matter what their religion, race or colour. Words, coupled with passion and conviction can and do ring true.  However, we are not interested in hearing mere words, no matter how passionate, unless we know they are also coupled with deeds.  Otherwise, they ring exceedingly hollow. When we listen to great passionate speakers and know that they not alone believe what they say, but that they also do what they say we are truly moved, and moved in such a way as to do something positive or to work for a better world in our immediate surroundings.  We are here right at the heart of what it means to "do the truth", "to live the truth" or what is fundamentally meant by PRAXIS. And so hypocrisy is often immediately clear to an astute and sensitive listener.  We are right to turn away from such bogus oratory and mere rhetoric.  

I write about oratory, real oratory in that sense of linking in with the passion for justice which the speaker evokes in our hearts.  Obviously, good speakers can also evoke hatred in the hearts of his listeners as did the likes of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco, but they were mere manipulators of base emotions, not evokers of a passion for justice and truth.  Real orators touch us deeply at a centre of truth, at a centre of compassion, not at a centre of base emotions like hatred and greed, power and conquest.  Sophistry, of course, is even worse, as it is the use of clever but false arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving.

Abraham Lincoln (1809 -1865) said much and did much, but his was never an idle or thoughtless oratory - no, it was oratory in the true sense that I have adumbrated above - his words came from his heart and from how he lived his life on a daily basis, with a conviction always to do his best and to follow the light of his conscience. I like the following words from this great man:
I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.
Or take the words of our own Irish Catholic Liberator, Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847): "Nothing is politically right which is morally wrong."

Abe Lincoln
What put these thoughts on real oratory into my head was reading an article in a recent edition of The Irish Times on the great American orator Frederick Douglass (1818? - 1895), who has links with both Lincoln and O'Connell. The journalist Barry Roche recently wrote an interesting and illuminating article on Douglas in the Irish Times: Douglass was honoured in Waterford some days ago when a plaque was unveiled to mark a speech he gave in the city during a lecture tour of Ireland in 1845.   While here, the great orator met and befriended our great Catholic Liberator, and it appears that O'Connell influenced Douglass greatly especially with respect to the non-violent achievement of freedom for human beings of all colours and creeds.  Barry Roche quotes him in the above linked article, and it is worth re-quoting in full here:
“I am covered with the soft, grey fog of the Emerald Isle. I breathe, and lo! the chattel becomes a man. I gaze around in vain for one who will question my equal humanity, claim me as his slave, or offer me an insult,” he later wrote in My Bondage and My Freedom
President Obama has said that Douglass' Irish experience "defined him not as a colour but as a man."

Our Workaday World

Daniel O'Connell
All of the above is not worth a curse, unless it influences how I live and work on a daily basis, how I treat others, how welcoming I am of all the differences I meet in them. I am tasked as a Resource Teacher with treating all students, no matter what their ability, with equal dignity and respect.  Today, thankfully and wonderfully, indeed, Ireland is no longer mono-cultural or monochrome. Thankfully and wonderfully, it is multicultural and technicolour. Our country has been enriched by the influx of people of many nations since the growth and decline of the Celtic Tiger years.  This is a powerful cultural legacy which will serve only to enrich and strengthen our traditions.  There is much unity in diversity.  Their is no little discovery of what makes us different as Irish and what makes us all the same no matter what the colour of our skin or the shades of our beliefs are.  We need great orators in the sense that I have described them to inspire us to cherish and protect all life, human, animal and vegetable.  When the great orators of the future speak, and speak they must, their topics will be broader than human rights and human dignity.  Their subject will be, I believe, the very survival of our planet.  But that, alas, is a topic for another post.  Let us, in the meantime, ponder the words of the great orators of today and yesteryear and be inspired to work for justice in the world and the equality of all.

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